On 28-29 July 2021, the United Kingdom and Kenya co-hosted the Global Education Summit, in London and online, to raise USD $5 billion for the Global Partnership for Education (GPE). The Summit took place amidst a global pandemic, with the majority of participants dialling in virtually to watch youth activists, ministers, practitioners and heads of state take the stage.
In the week leading up to the Summit (19-27 July) civil society organizations, UN agencies and NGOs had the opportunity to host side events to the main summit programme. The UNGEI Secretariat joined forces with partner and ally organizations (including Leonard Cheshire, Girls Not Brides, Transform Education, Plan International, and many more) to co-host six Global Education Summit side events on key themes relating to gender equality in education.
On 21 July, UNGEI co-organized the side event “Gender-responsive and disability-inclusive education for all” with Sightsavers, Leonard Cheshire, GCE-US, GPE, and the World Bank. As we look back on a packed fortnight of donor pledges, side events, and a landmark global Summit, we asked our partners to consider how gender-responsive and disability-inclusive education was represented. This is what we heard:
“This was an important event to highlight the experiences of girls with disabilities, who are often left out of conversations on inclusion, as there is a limited understanding of the ways in which gender and disability intersect. Disability inclusion, in both education and COVID-19 recovery plans, is often side-lined, yet the pandemic has exacerbated existing inequalities for children who were already marginalized. Currently, girls with disabilities make up a substantial share of out of school children, and COVID-19 has worsened the situation for many of them. Therefore, at a time when girls education has been high on the political agenda, this GES side-event offered a key opportunity to encourage education actors to take an intersectional approach to addressing the different challenges girls with disabilities face in learning.” - Takyiwa Danso, Sightsavers.
Reflections on a virtual summit in the post-pandemic era
The Global Education Summit was an important opportunity to put issues of gender equality and disability inclusion on the global education agenda! But what did an almost entirely virtual Summit mean for participation, inclusion and accessibility? This is what we heard:
“In terms of running an online event, it was important for us to ensure that it was accessible and inclusive for all contributors, participants, and spectators. We’ve found that with many online events now, accessibility can still be forgotten, excluding many people from making meaningful contributions. It was great to work with partners who recognised this and actively ensured the appropriate accessibility measures were in place to make it fully inclusive and participatory.” - Takyiwa Danso, Sightsavers
“Having the GES online was not an extraordinary experience. It was not as engaging as I felt physically would have been, although I'm glad voices were heard at least.” - Maryjacob Okwuosa, Founder Whisper To Humanity Foundation, GPE Youth Leader
“The event widened its reach by increasing the numbers of attendees to the event itself through reducing barriers to access such as cost and travel, particularly pertinent to people with disabilities. It also meant that both transcripts and a recording of the event were made available to all, very soon after the event. This ultimately increased the impact.” - Gemma Cook, Leonard Cheshire
“There are pros and cons of this since nothing really replaces the feel and impact of being a room with real people and reading not only each other’s faces and tones but also body language and engaging as human beings! On the other hand, of course, it enables much larger reach than would be possible for a face to face event, with more and diverse people being able to log in and engage” - Arushi Singh, Programme Specialist, UNESCO
“It’s powerful to get such great and diverse speakers from around the world without travelling. But it’s no less planning and preparation to put together a great event.” - Shiraz Chakera, Education Specialist, UNICEF
The power of real talks - delivering reality checks on issues of gender and education
As part of our GES side event programme, UNGEI co-hosted two ‘Real Talk’ events. Real Talks are unscripted, organic discussions between stakeholders, who are encouraged to draw on their own perspectives and experiences to ensure an authentic and insightful conversation. This is what we heard from “Teachers and young people as drivers of change on CSE and SRGBV” and “Gender transformative education: the key to achieving a more just and inclusive world”.
“The real talk between teachers and young activists was eye opening. It helped to hear from those implementing strategies on the ground about what they are able to do and achieve, what their challenges are, and how they deal with issues they face. I feel like we need more of such dialogues, especially since the intergenerational nature really helped us see the different perspectives as well as the points on which they agreed. Policy makers need more reality checks like this to ensure that they make informed decisions for all young people and teachers in the education system.” - Arushi Singh, Programme Specialist, UNESCO
“The Gender Transformative Education side event was critical to surface the journey still to go to ensure that children in all their diversity can benefit from the promise of education. A cross-section of actors - from donors to activists - recognised the importance of placing a gender transformative approach to education, and being practical about it.” - Shiraz Chakera, Education Specialist, UNICEF
Youth leadership during the Global Education Summit and side events
In all of the side events we contributed to, we partnered with youth-led networks and youth activists. According to UNGEI’s best practice for youth partnership, all young activists that took part in our events were funded for their connectivity, time and expertise. Here is what we heard about youth leadership during the Global Education Summit and side events:
“Young people’s involvement through the process and the ability to unearth major issues for GPE and for world leaders to hear us was an important part of the side events for me. I hope young people and feminists won't be muted post GES. We should be put in at strategic points in our nations and in the world at large for better accountabilities and further engagements to ensure the aim of the funds are not defeated. I am also looking forward to seeing more gender-sensitive demands with the funds.” - Maryjacob Okwuosa, Founder Whisper To Humanity Foundation, GPE Youth Leader
GPE’s commitment to “transform education systems” must be grounded in the foundational and universal right to free, equal, quality and inclusive education through comprehensive implementation strategies and accountability frameworks. Gender equality was indeed “hardwired” throughout the Global Education Summit discourse, but the concrete ways in which this will be delivered have yet to materialize. In addition to the well-publicized financial pledges, we call on GPE partners to pledge their collective commitments to gender-responsive and inclusive education policies that will benefit all learners, equally. In the words of Antara Ganguli, Director of the UNGEI Secretariat, “We applaud you, GPE for this bold yet critical ambition. And we, along with all our partners, put ourselves at your disposal to support you in achieving it.”